A total of 109 players joined the AFL for the first time in the draft period of 2003. There were 62 in the national draft, four in the pre-season draft, and 43 in the rookie draft.
If there was a prize for the best value draftee of the year it would be a no-brainer. Michael Rischitelli.
Rischitelli was the 56th member of the Class of 2003 when drafted from the Western Jets to the Brisbane Lions with selection #61 in the national draft.
Almost 16 years on, and after he’s spent the past nine years with the Gold Coast SUNS, he has outlasted all but two of them. And he has played more AFL football than all but five of them.
Only Fremantle’s David Mundy, drafted at #19, and Heath Shaw, drafted father/son by Collingwood at #48 and now playing with the GWS Giants, have survived longer in the gruelling AFL world of the AFL than 33-year-old Rischitelli.
And only Mundy (315 games), Shaw (303 games), Essendon utility Brett Stanton (255 games), Western Bulldogs/Essendon Brownlow Medallist Adam Cooney (250 games), and Fremantle defender Michael Johnson (244 games) have played more games.
WATCH: Rischa's emotional farewell
Having announced his retirement on Monday, Rischitelli will play his 132nd Suns game and his 243rd AFL game on Saturday night when the Gold Coast SUNS host the GWS Giants at Metricon Stadium. And his last.
He will finish third on the Suns’ all-time games list, behind only Jarrod Harbrow (175) and David Swallow (139), assuming Harbrow and Swallow both play this week.
He will finish fourth in the club’s all-time possession list, going into his final game with 2327 to trail only Harbrow (3457), Gary Ablett (3392) and Swallow (2941).
He will also go into the AFL record books listed sixth on the list of most games played in jumper #35.
Only St.Kilda dual Brownlow Medallist Robert Harvey (379), three-time premiership winning Geelong/Essendon utility Paul Chapman (251), Collingwood goal-kicking genius Peter Daicos (250), Geelong captain Billy Goggin (248) and two-time Carlton premiership defender Peter Dean (248).
Among 12,757 all-time AFL players he will be listed among just 46 to have played 100 games with two AFL clubs.
And he will stand alone as the only player named ‘Rischitelli’ to play in the AFL, and the only player to have played 50 games at Metricon Stadium and the Gabba – 63 at Metricon (with one to come) and 67 at the Gabba.
Michael Rischitelli has called time on his incredible AFL career. Thank you for everything you have done in the red and gold, Rischa. #ThanksRischa ❤️— Gold Coast Suns (@GoldCoastSUNS) August 19, 2019
Admired and respected by all involved with both his clubs, Rischitelli arrived on the AFL scene in memorable fashion when he debuted aged 18 for Brisbane against Adelaide at the Gabba in Round 17 2004.
The Lions kicked 21 goals in the second half to win 29-15 (189) to 6-12 (48). It was the second-highest score and second-biggest winning margin in Brisbane history, and the biggest loss in Adelaide history. Playing just 52% game time, Rischitelli had eight disposals, four tackles, one goal assist and kicked two goals.
He played his 50th AFL game in Round 6 2008 for Brisbane against Melbourne at the Gabba, picking up 20 disposals, making 10 tackles and kicking one goal in a 52-point win, and posted his 100th game in Round 11 2010 for Brisbane against North Melbourne at Docklands. He had 25 disposals before a late-minute Levi Greenwood goal gave North a one-point win.
He won the 2010 Brisbane B&F, polling 37.5 votes to beat Simon Black (34.5), Jonathan Brown (28.5) and Luke Power (27.5). He was also 8th in the Brisbane B&F in 2006 and 6th in 2008.
Since moving down the highway to the SUNS for their club’s entry to the AFL in 2011 after an aborted effort by Brisbane to trade him to Carlton with Daniel Bradshaw for Brendan Fevola, he has travelled all the highs and lows with the expansion club.
He shares with Harbrow and Swallow the distinction of being the only members of the very first Suns side that played Carlton at the Gabba in Round 2 2011 still at the club. And along the way he’s been a part of almost every significant moment in the club’s history.
Significantly, he polled two Brownlow Medal votes in the SUNSp’ first AFL win over Port Adelaide in Canberra in 2011, with 31 possessions, including a career-best 20 contested possessions, nine clearances and two goals.
He played in the game against GWS in Canberra 2013 in when the SUNS posted their highest score in the AFL of 21-22 (148). He had 22 possessions.
He played in the game against GWS at Metricon in 2013 in which the Suns posted their biggest winning margin of 83 points. He had 25 possessions and kicked two goals.
From a personal perspective, he played his 200th AFL game in Round 1 2016 for Gold Coast against Essendon at Metricon. He had 27 possessions, 10 clearances and seven tackles in a 61-point win.
READ: Rischitelli's SUNS legacy
He was the second SUNS player behind Harbrow to reach 100 games for the club in Round 16 2016 against Brisbane at Metricon. Sadly, he lasted barely five minutes until sidelined by a knee problem, but the SUNS won by 26 points.
Acting SUNS captain 16 times, he had a career-best 35 possessions for the SUNS against St.Kilda at Metricon in Round 2 2015, and kicked a career-best three goals for Brisbane against Port at the Gabba in Round 21 2009.
Despite recurring injury problems, he has twice finished top 10 in the Suns B&F – he was 8th in 2014, and 5th in 2015 – and he has polled a total of 28 Brownlow Medal votes, including 10 in 2010.
He ranks comfortably in the top 10 all-time draftees from the Western Jets alongside the likes of Dustin Fletcher, Brad Johnson, Shannon Grant, Matthew Lloyd, Heath Scotland, Daniel Giansiracusa, Bachar Houli, Callan Ward and Lachie Hunter.
He will retire having played at a total of 17 different AFL venues – Gabba (67), Carrara (63), Docklands (33), MCG (18), Subiaco (11), Kardinia Park (9), Football Park (8), York Park in Launceston (8), SCG (7), Cazaly’s in Cairns (6), Adelaide Oval (3), Manuka Oval in Canberra (3), Perth Stadium (2), Jiangwan Stadium in China (1), Sydney Showgrounds (1), Marrara Stadium in Darwin, Eureka Oval in Ballarat.
Only three long-term SUNS have played at more venues – Harbrow (19), Swallow (18) and Sexton (18). Rischitelli played in the first AFL game in Cairns, and the second AFL game in China and Ballarat.
Listed at #17 on the SUNS’ all-time playing list, which was done alphabetically in game one and in appearance order since then, he has seen the list grow to now 116 players after the debut of Caleb Graham in Round 21.
Remarkably, on the day Rischitelli joined the AFL on 24 November 2003 Graham was only six weeks beyond his third birthday.
He really has spent a lifetime in football!